The Associations of Constructive and Destructive Interparental Conflict to Child Well-Being Among Low-Income Families

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Graduate School of Social Work


Interparental conflict is a well-established precursor to child maladjustment. However, little is understood of the role of different interparental conflict in shaping the developmental outcomes of young children, especially those from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds. This study uses data from a large and racially diverse sample of low-income, unmarried mothers with young children (n = 1,297) to examine the processes linking parental constructive conflict, destructive conflict, intimate partner violence (IPV) to child behavior problems, and child emotional insecurity as a mediator of these processes. Path analyses were conducted to estimate structural paths between (a) conflict constructs and child behavior problems, (b) conflict constructs and child emotional insecurity, and (c) child emotional insecurity and child behavior problems. Results demonstrated that constructive conflict was associated with decreased levels of both child emotional insecurity and child behavior problems, whereas destructive conflict was associated with increased levels of both child outcomes. IPV was associated with increased levels of child emotional insecurity only. Child emotional insecurity mediated the links between all three conflict constructs and child behavior problems. Such findings suggest the need for clinicians to help raise awareness regarding the consequences of children’s exposure to different interparental conflict and educate parents about children’s sense of emotional security in the family.

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